El Cid appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 5:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I found a lot to like in this fine transfer.
Sharpness rarely faltered. While the occasional wide shot showed a smidgen of softness, those examples remained negligible. Instead, the majority of the flick demonstrated solid accuracy and delineation. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and I also noticed no edge enhancement.
Source flaws were modest but still became the main reason the DVD fell below “A”-level for its visuals. Throughout the film, I saw the occasional speck or marks. Again, these stayed minor, but I found a few too many for the film to get into that “A” range.
On the other hand, colors excelled. With all sorts of regal garb and lively settings, the hues got the chance to shine, and they did so on a consistent basis. The tones appeared vivid and rich throughout the movie. Blacks also seemed deep and dense, while shadows were clear and smooth. A few “day for night” shots looked a bit thick, but the rest of the low-light scenes were fine. Though not quite up to “A”-level standards, the transfer of El Cid really satisfied.
In addition, I thought the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of El Cid seemed quite good, especially for a 47-year-old movie. Granted, the soundfield stayed moderately restricted, but it opened up matters in a satisfying manner. In the front, the action spread well across the channels and meshed together smoothly. The various elements demonstrated accurate placement and fit together well. Music also boasted strong stereo imaging.
As for the surrounds, they played a small role in the proceedings. They really did little more than echo some of the material in the front. For example, a battle scene boasted the clanging of swords from the rear speakers, and a larger war scene presented shouting and related noise from the back. None of this meant a whole lot, but it added some scope to the package.
Given the age of the material, audio quality seemed very positive. Speech was a little reedy at times, but the lines were always intelligible and usually appeared pretty natural. Music could’ve packed a little more punch, but the score showed acceptable range and clarity. Effects were clean and accurate enough to make them good representations of the information. This wasn’t a dazzling soundtrack, but it did well for itself, especially when I considered its vintage.
A decent mix of supplements fills out this “Limited Collector’s Edition” package. Across both discs, we find an audio commentary with producer’s son Bill Bronston and historian/biographer Neal M. Rosendorf. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They tell us about producer Samuel Bronston, shooting in Spain, story, interpretation and political context, set design and related production elements, cast and crew, stunts and fight scenes, and a few other issues.
At times, the pair manage to produce some decent notes about El Cid. However, way too much of the commentary simply lavishes praise upon the flick. We’re frequently told how big and real everything was, as the grandeur of the production receives undue notice. I wouldn’t call this a bad commentary, but it fails to deliver enough real content about the flick to make it a winner, and it tends to be a bit boring.
A collection of 1961 radio promotional interviews fill a total of 14 minutes and 21 seconds. The segments present “Charlton Heston” (3:35), “Sophia Loren” (2:26), “Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston” (4:46) and “Charlton Heston and Lydia Heston” (3:33). These are radio station pieces that leave blank spaces for the hosts to “ask” the questions to the participants. We hear a little about the movie’s characters and some experiences during the shoot. Nothing substantial appears here, though I like Lydia’s comments about having to deal with Charlton’s crazy schedule.
DVD One also includes some Filmographies. We get listings for producer Samuel Bronston, director Anthony Mann, writer Ben Barzman, composer Miklos Rozsa, and actors Heston, Loren, John Fraser, Gary Raymond, Genevieve Page, Raf Vallone, Douglas Wilmer and Herbert Lom.
Finally, DVD One provides some Still Galleries. These split into “Behind the Scenes” (95 shots) and “Promotional Materials” (11). Some good images appear here, though the absence of any captions for the photos makes them confusing. It’d be nice to know who we’re seeing in those snaps.
Over on DVD Two, we open with Hollywood Conquers Spain: The Making of El Cid. This 23-minute and 57-second program offers the standard mix of movie clips, archival materials and interviews. We hear from Rosendorf, film historian Jeanine Basinger, The Magnificent Showman author Mel Martin, writer/Ben Barzman’s wife Norma Barzman, screenwriter Philip Yordan, and actor Charlton Heston. “Conquers” looks at why Bronston chose to make a flick about El Cid, the script and research, the choice of director and his work, cast and their interactions, sets and logistical challenges, and the movie’s reception.
After all the praise from the commentary, I worried that “Conquers” would be more of the same. Though we do get positive remarks about the film, we find much more good content here, and it doesn’t feel neutered. We learn about a few different controversies and hear some interesting stories. “Conquers” doesn’t provide a full take on the production, but it gives us useful material.
Next comes the 52-minute and 20-second Samuel Bronston: The Epic Journey of a Dreamer. It features notes from Bill Bronston, Rosendorf, Martin, Barzman, Yordan, daughter Irene Bronston, production manager CO “Doc” Erickson, Vice President of Bronston Productions Leon Patlach, and biographer Paul G. Nagle. “Dreamer” follows the life and career of Samuel Bronston, with an appropriate emphasis on the latter.
And that side of things helps make “Dreamer” a surprisingly winning documentary. I feared that it’d be little more than a laudatory puff piece, but instead it takes a frank look at Bronston’s strengths and weaknesses. It covers his failures as well as his triumphs and his eventual collapse as a film producer. This becomes a concise, involving program.
Behind the Camera: Anthony Mann and El Cid goes for 17 minutes, 24 seconds and includes Yordan, Rosendorf, Basinger, Nagle, Erickson, Heston, Barzman, key grip Fred Russel, director’s daughter Nina Mann, script supervisor Pat Miller, and editor Robert Lawrence. We also find a little archival interview footage of director Mann himself. “Camera” looks at the life and work of Mann, with a bit of an emphasis on his El Cid work. It proves informative and enjoyable.
After this we locate Miklos Rozsa: Maestro of the Movie, a 30-minute and 11-second piece. It presents statements from Remembering Miklos Rozsa author Jeffrey Dane, daughter Juliet Rosza, conductor John Mauceri, and son Nicholas Rosza. We also get some archival comments from Miklos Rosza himself. As with the Mann piece, this one looks at Rozsa’s life and work, with an emphasis on his music for El Cid. It becomes another good view of its subject.
For the final program, Preserving Our Legacy: Gerry Byrne on Film fills seven minutes, 37 seconds with remarks from film consultant Byrne. He discusses the preservation and the restoration of El Cid. Byrne proves likable and charming as he offers good insights into the subject.
DVD Two concludes with a Trailer Gallery. In it we find two ads for El Cid; one comes from the original 1961 theatrical exhibition, while the other supports a 1993 re-release. We also locate clips for The Fall of the Roman Empire, Cinema Paradiso and Control.
Some very nice paper materials flesh out this deluxe set. A 40-page booklet reproduces the movie’s original program. It provides plenty of notes about the flick and its creators, and it becomes a cool memento of the production.
If you want to check out another take on El Cid, look toward the comic book adaptation. It gives us a four-color rendition of the tale and is fun to see. A brief Introduction from Martin Scorsese appears in a four-page booklet. This gives us a quick appreciation of the film. Finally, six lobby cards finish off the classy package.
El Cid aspires to the greatness of flicks such as Ben-Hur or Lawrence of Arabia. It doesn’t reach those heights, but at least it proves more effective than flawed offerings such as The Greatest Story Ever Told. Competent and professional, the film holds out attention but rarely excels. At least its DVD release proves very satisfying. Both picture and audio seem quite good, and we also find a generally solid collection of supplements. I think this is a very nice release for a moderately involving movie.
Note that two versions of El Cid appear on the market. Fans can pursue either this “Limited Collector’s Edition” or a two-DVD release. Some of the non-disc-based materials offer the only differences. Both packages present the same two DVDs and the Scorsese introduction booklet, but the LCE adds the program, the comic book and the lobby cards. For that, the LCE retails for $39.95, while the two-DVD set on its own goes for $24.95. I like this LCE, but the standard two-DVD version is definitely the better bargain.